Masculinity is so damn fragile, y’all. I mean, truly, just delicate. But for how brittle it is, it’s central to how our society operates – it dictates who is respected and is deemed respectable, and determines who succeeds and who is deemed successful.
Michael Kimmel makes a great note in his article Masculinity as Homophobia in describing what he calls the Marketplace Man; a white, heterosexual male whose identity is largely rooted in his success in the capitalistic market and his accumulation of power and status. Some of the key defining principles of hegemonic masculinity as it relates to our capitalistic society are those that encompass identities that are materialistic, independent, competitive, egocentric, and power driven.
Though his identity is developed in his assertion of independence, his status is built and sustained upon the public approval of his peers. His success is steeped in capitalism, therefore it is overt and oppressive. Although the constructs that define his masculinity are frail, its execution can be dominating, offensive, and often deadly. How this execution manifests can be direct or indirect, violent or passive, but always present. For those of any gender who identify as non-White, non-heterosexual, or any other identity that is unreflective of the Marketplace Man, it’s exceedingly difficult to navigate success without confronting discrimination.
Through this lens, all other definitions of masculinity (as well as other identities that do not fit or assimilate to his own), are often treated as inferior and certain to be targeted and exploited in his assertion of power. This concept transcends gender, and among other things affects class, race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Though how often we observe it is at our own personal discretion, it can be witnessed through media outlets daily. The Marketplace Man and individuals perpetuating this identity are present in our politics, business, education, and everyday conversations.
Below are instances where hyper-masculinity has obstructed justice in some form, and explanations as to how these perceptions are maintained and preserved. Though there are many different lenses and identities that contribute to these prejudices, this post will specifically outline the role masculinity plays in these instances.
Humanizing White Terrorists
Describing individuals with words such as misunderstood, alienated, and kind are exclusive to the white men and the occasional women who commit acts of terror, while we describe Black and Brown men and women who do much less as thugs, drug addicts, and criminals. Somehow, our society is capable of seeing the humanity in the 57 year old murderer Robert Dear, but not the humanity in the 17 year old victim Laquan McDonald. This empathy with white terrorism is solely a defense used to justify the anger and xenophobia that reside in Dear. Society will protect those who embody hegemonic masculinity, and vilify those who will not to sustain the status quo. Through this lens, Dear’s beliefs weren’t wrong, but his anger was not passive enough. Meanwhile, McDonald will never escape the conviction of guilt, even in his death, because he is unreflective of the Marketplace Man.
Tone policing is near exclusive to Black and Brown bodies and reinforces the fear of challenging authority. The moment we find someone’s tone more offensive than the unjust murder of a child, we give into dangerous rhetoric that prioritizes the regulation of our emotion and power over the value of human life. It is a mechanism that is dismissive of anguish, obstructive of passion, and discouraging of power. While white men are absolved of judgment of their aggressive mourning of the loss of the Christmas spirit in a Starbucks coffee cup, Black and Brown people cannot mourn the loss of our mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends without facing scrutiny for our grief. It is this principle that devalues the life of historically marginalized folks, and subdues the authority of our emotion – where so much of our power lies. Because we do not embody this image of masculinity, our anger will not be justified.
Dismissing the Non-Male Voice
In an effort to project the dominant male perspective, society (steeped in hegemonic masculinity) has a habit of both directly and indirectly silencing women, transgender, and gender nonconforming people from discussing their truths and opinions. Indirectly, it reveals itself in instances where reporters limit questions and discussions of fascinating women, including Scarlett Johansson, Michelle Obama, and Serena Williams. “What did she wear?” is often discussed before “What did she say?,” further entangling the value of their voice with their physique and appearance. This can also be observed in the direct persecution and often disregard of non-male identities in the political sphere when a point is only validated by the masses when there is a male cosign, or when a woman is out-barked by a male figure when questioning his authority or beliefs. This can be witnessed in this video here of Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards defending her organization at a hearing in the Republican controlled House.
Violence as a Response to Threatened Entitlement
Studies have revealed that White supremacy is the origin of a large majority of the ever-rising domestic terror threats. Similar findings disclose that white men are almost exclusively responsible for mass shootings in the United States. Though these terrorist’s motives differ in the details, their hyper-masculine identities is one of their many unwavering similarities. Whether it be Elliot Rodger’s intent to punish women who reject him and other more sexually active men, Dylann Storm’s racist massacre in his claim that Blacks disproportionately rape white women, or Wade Michael Page’s prejudice act of terror against people of the Sikh faith in their temple, they and dozens of others are the extreme examples of a very common mindset in the Marketplace Man that resorts to violence when their false entitlement is unmet.
Capitalism in its current form cannot be administered equitably nor can it sustain itself without the assertion of masculine values, making the liberation of people that hold historically marginalized identities a direct threat to the success of the Marketplace Man. When we discuss these incompatible values struggling to occupy the same space, rarely do we call out the root cause of this consequential denial of justice by name. We use language like greed, prejudice, privilege, and supremacy to define it, yet neglect to acknowledge how each of these problematic values bolster the same structures that uphold the concept of masculinity and its role in the homogeneous dispersal of power.
Let’s call oppression for what it is by its root, and continue to identify how masculinity maintains its many forms of obstructing equity and justice.